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Author: Richard M. Lerner

Community-Based Approaches to Promoting Positive Youth Development: Program Practices and Program Evaluation

Parts 1 and 2

  1. Obstacles and Alternative Efforts to Promoting PYD
    1. The results of Theokas’ research on actual developmental assets suggest that the best way to promote PYD is to ensure that young people are in positive, caring families.
    2. Family is still the fundamental asset for the child, and authoritative parenting has the best effect on them.
    3. Given the importance of family, it is not enough to just advocate for good parenting.
    4. Al and Tipper Gore propose "family-based community building," which suggests that we must use the resources of a community to help families raise their children.
    5. However, communities have a hard time rallying around families. Families’ needs are incredibly diverse, and 25% of households are single-parent head-of-household families.
  2. Programs, Theories of Change, and Logic Models
    1. A program is defined as a set of planned actions. such actions can be either formal (e.g., 4-H, Big Brothers/Big Sisters) or informal.
    2. Each program must address the following essential question: What actions with what youth under what conditions will result in what outcomes?
    3. A theory of change links actions to outcomes. To ensure that expected outcomes are being met, a theory of change is essential in program evaluation.
    4. A logic model is a plan for the sequence of actions to be followed to implement a theory of change.
    5. Unfortunately, relatively few youth programs have explicit theories of change or use logic models to document the effects of their actions. Most programs use testimonials instead of empirically validated evaluations to determine the program’s functioning.
    6. Without a logic model, we can’t see how a program’s sequence works. Without a theory of change, we don’t know why a program should be working. And without evaluation, we have no proof that a program is working.
  3. Three Goals of Evaluation
    1. Prove: Program evaluations should show that a program does or does not work. But program evaluation must go further. For example, summative evaluations like randomized controlled trials (RCTs) focus solely on proving a program’s effectiveness.
    2. Improve: Program evaluations should show how a program can be enhanced or improved. This process of formative evaluation takes into account the youth who are part of the program.
    3. Empower: Program evaluations should empower the participants to sustain their programs on their own. Program designs that incorporate empowerment focus on getting the people involved in the program to measure/evaluate their own program. This work allows people involved in the program to be better informed and to be able to advocate for their own program. Accordingly, in youth development programs youth participation is a key facet of empowerment. Such participation allows youth to be active contributors to their own (positive) development.
  4. What Does it Mean to Participate?
    1. Hart (1997) suggests that there is a ladder of participation.
    2. The lowest steps-- manipulation, decoration, and tokenism-- are more aptly thought of as forms of non-participation.
    3. Degrees of participation range from youth being assigned to a program to youth-initiated programs in which youth share decision-making power with adults.

Suggested Readings:

  • Evans, S., & Prilleltensky, I. (2005). Youth civic engagement: Promise and peril. In M. Ungar (Ed.) Handbook for working with children and youth: Pathways to resilience across cultures and context (pp. 405-415). Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks.
  • Flanagan, C.A., Bowes, J.M., Jonsson, B., Csapo, B., Sheblanova, E. (1998). Ties that bind: Correlates of adolescents’ civic commitments in seven countries. Journal of Social Issues, 54, 457-475.
  • Gore, A. (2003) Foreword. In R. M. Lerner & P. L. Benson (Eds.). Developmental assets and asset-building communities: Implications for research, policy, and programs (pp. vii-ix). New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers.